Cloud // Cloud Storage
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4/17/2012
02:39 PM
Mark Peters
Mark Peters
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4 Reasons Naysayers Win IT Battles, Not Wars

Want to predict the best storage innovation coming down the pipe? Take a look at what traditional IT is saying won't work.

For all its obvious scientific brilliance, frequent technical advances, and near-magical capabilities, it often seems as if the enterprise IT world is populated by obstinate naysayers rather than opportunity seekers. Put forward some new discovery or approach and you can almost guarantee a chorus of "yes, but ..." This phrase can be completed in multiple ways, linked to money, desire, suitability for purpose, etc., but they all amount to "no," or at least "not now," "not for us," and so on. It's almost like a rite of passage for any successful IT product or platform: if not initially derided, denigrated, and made dubious, it probably has no chance to achieve dominance.

Let's look at a few examples, and try to figure out why the tech world's knee-jerk reaction is to explain why something won't work, and, in particular, why storage changes can seem to take such a long time. On the one hand this "reluctant embrace of progress" (as some might call it) is far more prevalent than you might think, tempting me to simply quote J.K. Galbraith and be done with this. As he pointed out, "faced with the choice of changing one's mind and proving that there is no need to do so, almost everybody gets busy on the proof." But, on the other hand, the "cautiously pragmatic adoption of the new" (as others would see it) is also far more logical than you might think.

The longer history of technology shows that what I'm about to describe is not new. For instance, Chester Carlson spent years trying to get someone to buy into his idea, a process that we now know as xerography But--hey--who would ever really want near-instant copies of documents?!? Closer to home, we all know that Thomas Watson (of IBM fame) thought that there might be a total market of five mainframe computers! (And you get bonus points for remembering the name of the person who challenged the notion of ever needing a computing device at home.)

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Even more recently, the Internet grew from a pragmatic need for access across university systems, not from someone imagining a need for electronic email or recognizing that online shopping might be the next great idea. Why on earth would you want computers to talk to each other?

Perhaps this is our first clue: The real power and potential of something new is not always seen at the outset. Cars and telephones were merely cool toys at first, and they needed a whole infrastructure to realize their potential and endemic popularity. The same is essentially true of the Web--it was something of a chicken-and-egg situation, constrained by access speeds and network costs, as well as the limited number of websites. But its value was--at first gradually, then rapidly--seen.

Whole new approaches to business took shape. It wasn't so much invented per se, as it coalesced and occurred; no focus groups had been sitting around demanding an Internet, or a personal computer, or an automated tape library, or an iWhatever, or Google, or email, or solid-state based storage, or even deduplication. The value of such things wasn't always in fulfilling known, or well-expressed needs, but in teasing out latent needs and then fuelling the value.

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Fine, but with so much history of successful innovation, why do storage and IT, of all worlds, continue to exhibit reticence to embracing the new? It seems to me that there are a number of factors at play.

1. "Safety first" is, understandably, the mantra of most IT shops of any size. Few IT managers are actively rewarded for embracing the new (although that's beginning to change as IT departments begin to use incentives and MBOs to encourage the use of things like virtualization and cloud services), whereas plenty of IT managers will be chastised if anything goes wrong. This simply means that ultra-conservatism is inbred; and interoperability, certification, application-testing, and support are certainly not things to be sniffed at when you're running, say, an airline, manufacturing, or telecom system.

2. Often only one or two vendors will bring forth a particular type of technical advance. This means that the natural competitive response from the rest of the vendor ecosystem is to point to all the negatives (whether real or simply FUD) of the new thing; whether this is because they don't have an equivalent offering or if they're merely trying to buy time until they do, the effect is the same: The volume of negativity about new tools and methods gets amplified beyond what might be expected.

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robin oliver
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robin oliver,
User Rank: Apprentice
4/20/2012 | 6:06:22 PM
re: 4 Reasons Naysayers Win IT Battles, Not Wars
This is all well and good...

Still, it is unwise to adopt technology for technology's sake alone. There are three basic questions that should always be asked...

First, if the group is to adopt a certain new technology, can there be some remarkable return on that investment...?

Second, either in terms of its intended design or its adaptable use, is this new technology consistent with the operations of the business model into which it should be installed and with the skill sets of intended users...?

Third, does this new technology actually enhance and improve the delivery of relevant and timely information to be available for value-driven business decision-making...?
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